Traveling with drugs subjects you to a host of laws. If you break those laws, you could land in incredibly serious trouble.
Even traveling with legal medications can be tricky, so make sure to do your research and have all the necessary documentation before you travel with any drugs.
Generally speaking, there are three groups of people who may wish to travel internationally with drugs.
Travelers in groups B and C are choosing to willfully break the law for either fun or profit.
People who are struggling with addiction present a more complicated picture. If you are smuggling drugs to feed your cravings, you have reached a level of risky behavior that could destroy your life. This is a clear sign that you need addiction treatment.
The United States’ Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC) has written an advice guide for those who need to travel with legal medications.
If you are going to bring any medication across a border, do your research. What is legal, and possibly even widely and freely available, in one country is not necessarily even legal in another country.
Equally, many countries have strict laws about smuggling drugs of any kind. Familiarize yourself with the exact method that allows you to bring drugs across the border.
To be clear, there are drugs that you may have a legitimate prescription for that may literally land you in prison for years if you are caught traveling into another country with them, especially in a way that could be interpreted as smuggling. For example, some allergy and sinus medications are not legal in Japan. Make sure to check with the country’s foreign embassy to confirm that you can bring the medication in question with you when you enter the country.
Be extremely careful if you intend to travel with opioids or other potent drugs.
Once you confirm that you can bring the medication with you, consult with your doctor beforehand. You may need a larger prescription than normal to ensure you will have enough with you on your trip.
Keep your prescription medications in your carry-on bag, and bring copies of your prescriptions with you.
Avoid bringing any drug that is not absolutely necessary for your health unless you are certain it is permitted in the country you are traveling to and that you can legally bring it aboard a plane or drive across a border with it. Some countries have drug laws so strict that you may not wish to travel there if you must bring certain medications with you.
Never travel across a border with drugs you intend to abuse.
As noted above, some countries have incredibly strict drug laws. You could spend years in prison or even be executed if you bring certain drugs into these countries and are caught. For example, in Saudi Arabia, possession of drugs could be punished with beatings, imprisonment, or even death.
The only drugs you should ever take across a border are those you need and know you are permitted to take with you.
Much of this advice comes down to a question of risk versus reward. Even if a country has relatively light border security, smuggling drugs for recreational abuse yields very little beyond the ability to party (in an unhealthy and medically inadvisable way). The risk, however low, is that you are caught committing an international drug-related crime.
If you are traveling with drugs with the intent to sell them, you are at high risk of getting caught and receiving severe punishment. The nature of drug smuggling means you are likely to cross a country’s border frequently. This exposes you to substantial risk.
Not all drug smuggling is created equally, both in terms of ethical weight and legal risks. Some people, for example, are more or less forced to be drug mules, with powerful criminal organizations ensuring they perform their assigned tasks. Additionally, the type of drug and the amount will affect the punishment.
If you are caught smuggling drugs into another country, the penalties can be severe, depending on the country. In Venezuela, you may receive up to 30 years in prison. In Iran, Indonesia, and Thailand, you may be given the death penalty.
When you are caught with illegal drugs overseas, there is little the U.S. can do to help you.
People mistakenly believe they cannot be arrested in another country since they are a U.S. citizen. You are subject to the laws of the country you are in.
If you are caught with illegal drugs in another country, ask to speak with the consular office at the nearest U.S. consulate or embassy.
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The risk of traveling with drugs is incredibly high. It’s just not worth it.If you struggle with substance abuse and feel you cannot be without your substance of choice while you travel, it’s time to get help.
(September 2012). Travel and Drug Use in Europe: A Short Review. European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA). from http://www.emcdda.europa.eu/publications/thematic-papers/travel_en
Alcohol, Drugs and Travel. Canada.ca. from https://travel.gc.ca/travelling/health-safety/drugs
(February 2019). Traveling with Medication. Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC). from https://www.osac.gov/Pages/ContentReportDetails.aspx?cid=17386
(February 2015). Life as a drug mule: 'I was just scared…they knew where I lived'. Independent. from https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/life-as-a-drug-mule-i-was-just-scaredthey-knew-where-i-lived-10048183.html
US Embassies. usebassies.gov from https://www.usembassy.gov/